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Should I offer e-receipts to customers?

Besides saving paper, they're a fairly simple marketing tool

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Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of 200kfreelancer.com, a website for independent professionals. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for CreditCards.com.

Ask Elaine a question or read her prior answers in the 'Your Business Credit' archive.

Question for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Your Business Credit,
When I did my holiday shopping, I noticed more retailers offering to send me my receipt by email as a "green" alternative to getting a paper receipt. I run a small retail shop myself. What are the advantages of doing this? Should I be offering this option to my customers?
-- Jasmine

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Jasmine,
I noticed the same thing myself this year -- and research shows that it's a fast-growing trend. Consumers like getting e-receipts because it reduces the scraps of paper they need to carry home and is more environmentally friendly.

Of course, there's a big benefit to retailers, too, or you wouldn't see so many switching to e-receipts. The biggest advantage is that it gives the retailer another point of contact with customers after they leave the store. The customer has to hand over an email address to get the receipt.

And customers pay attention when they get an e-receipt. A 2013 Experian study looking at 12 brands that used e-receipts found that people open e-receipts more often than bulk promotional mailings. For e-receipts, 33.7 percent of email messages got opened, compared to 16.2 percent of bulk emails. However, there tend to be higher bounce rates for e-receipts, perhaps because the addresses are entered incorrectly by an employee at the point of sale, according to Experian.

Experian also found lower unique click rates on e-receipts, due to the fact that many don't include any calls to action or other types of links. Despite that, transaction rates are slightly higher for e-receipts, which translate into better payoffs. Revenue per e-receipt was 13 cents, versus 9 cents for bulk mailings.

How do you get the most out of e-receipts? The Experian report offers some ideas. You can add a navigation bar to the email, a link that says "Shop online" or links to your social media sites. One receipt the report highlights includes a series of other products with the heading, "You may also like" and a box promoting the retailer's new location.

You have to be careful about how you design the e-receipts. When including a navigation bar, Experian warns, "be careful to not overwhelm the top of the message with marketing messaging, as doing so runs the risk of changing the status of the e-receipt from a 'transactional' to a 'commercial' message. Commercial messages are subject to the CAN-SPAM law's identification and opt-out compliance requirements."

The Experian Marketing Services white paper, "Point of sale email -- Managing compliance, privacy and deliverability with in-store email acquisition," from August 2012, offers some tips on how to avoid running afoul of this law. Don't just assume that because a customer gave you an email address for the e-receipt that you can add them to your mailing list. One best practice is to ask consumers for their permission to send them marketing emails at the same time you ask for the address for the e-receipt. Another recommended way to get customer buy-in is to ask for a commercial email opt-in when you send the e-receipt.

How do you enable e-receipts? More point-of-sale vendors are providing the service, according to a report by Celerant, which has its own retail software solution offering e-receipts. Ask your provider if it's an option. Another alternative is to use technology from companies such as TransactionTree, which integrates into most point-of-sale platforms.  

You can also offer e-receipts through Square. After you swipe a customer's card on Square, you can enter their phone number and email address on the screen and then tap "send receipt," with the option to send it by email or text message. 

See related: What merchant information is required on receipts?, 1099-Ks: Small businesses face new tax paperwork, penalties

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Published: January 6, 2014


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